Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Across different levels of college football, there's always some form of parity.
In the BCS this past weekend, No. 1 and No. 2 were knocked off.
In the FCS, more often than not, that parity takes place during the regular season. It can be teams losing to opponents they should crush, or teams upsetting rival foes to spoil a perfect season, even winning a conference with multiple losses.
You get the point.
As the FCS enters the playoffs, with a field of 20 teams fighting for the right to play in the championship game in Frisco, Texas, even the first round has some matchups that only seem fitting.
Not even Superstorm Sandy could stop Wagner's FCS-leading eight-game win streak and impressive playoff push. The Seahawks dropped their first three games of the season, began Northeast Conference play and never looked back. Although the football team has an average attendance figure of 2,216 per game (116th in the FCS), somehow, someway, Wagner gets to host a home playoff contest versus Patriot League champion Colgate.
Who called that at the beginning of the season?
Besides the fact that Wagner and Colgate each have four common opponents played this season, it's also interesting to consider who they had to beat to earn their playoff stripes.
Wagner had to take down 2011 NEC champion Albany on the road. The Seahawks did so convincingly, 30-0. Colgate had to defeat Patriot League monster Lehigh on the road. The Raiders, too, accomplished that feat and claimed the outright title.
In a contest in Brookings, S.D., South Dakota State, which is led by the FCS' second-leading rusher, Zach Zenner, takes on the fighting Dino Babers of Eastern Illinois and its own Walter Payton Award candidates in quarterback Jimmy and wide receiver Erik Lora.
EIU pulled the old worst-to-first trick in the Ohio Valley Conference and now ranks sixth in the FCS in both passing and total offense. The Panthers were 2-9 in 2010 and 2011. They also have scored at least 30 points in all but two games this season.
SDSU lives and dies by its run game, which sets up big plays for quarterback Austin Sumner and the team's underrated receivers. The Jackrabbits were 5-6 in 2010 and 2011.
The contest should set up to be a cat and mouse game between the run-first 'Jacks and pass-first Panthers.
In Daytona Beach, Fla., Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion Bethune- Cookman hosts - yes, hosts Coastal Carolina. The Wildcats have now had two home playoff games in the last three years. Plus, they are looking to end the a winless playoff streak for their conference, which dates back to 1999.
B-CU ranks first in the FCS in turnovers gained with 34, while Coastal is tied for seventh in the FCS with just 11 turnovers lost. Like the MEAC, the Big South hasn't exactly had a lot of success in the playoffs.
Last but not least, Stony Brook plays at home versus CAA Football champ Villanova. Perhaps the playoff committee looked at Old Dominion as the CAA champ (even though the Monarchs were ineligible) and didn't care that Villanova won the tiebreaker for the conference's automatic bid.
It's hard to imagine the winner of the CAA would play on the road, without a bye, on the first weekend of playoff action. Either way, it still poses as an interesting matchup because Stony Brook has plenty to prove. And the Seawolves enter the CAA next season ... possible 2012 CAA title match?
SBU running back Miguel Maysonet has made some noise in 11 games this season. His 156 yards per game average and 1,721 rushing yards leads the FCS. Quarterback Kyle Essington is no slouch, either, leading the FCS in passing efficiency with a 175.83 rating. The next highest rating? Harvard's Colton Chapple with 161.51.
It might be the best situation for VU because, let's be honest, few have given coach Andy Talley's squad credit this season. The Wildcats won two games last year and are now suddenly a rushing juggernaut with a redshirt freshman quarterback, John Robertson, and a sophomore running back, Kevin Monangai, who have run for 936 and 1,190 yards, respectively.
One thing is for sure.
No matter how exciting or boring a matchup, or what type of ridiculous statistics a player has, what team is seeded, or where the game is played ... when the playoffs start, anything can happen.
The following is a game-by-game breakdown for the six FCS games this week:
Thursday, Nov. 22:
Tuskegee (9-1) at Alabama State (7-3)
DATE & TIME: Thursday, Nov. 22, 4 p.m. ET
FACTS & STATS: Site: ASU Stadium (26,500) - Montgomery, Ala. Surface: FieldTurf. Television: ESPNU. Home record: Tuskegee 3-0; Alabama State 2-2. Road record: Tuskegee 3-1; Alabama State 4-0. Neutral Record: Tuskegee 3-0; Alabama State 1-1. Conference: Tuskegee - Southern Intercollegiate Athletic, Division II); Alabama State - Southwestern Athletic. Series Record: Tuskegee (60-33-4). Turkey Day Classic Record: Tuskegee (48-32-3). Last meeting: Alabama State 30, Tuskegee 21 (November 24, 2011). Series Streak: Tuskegee has won 12 of the last 16 meetings. Head coaches: Tuskegee - Willie Slater (seventh season, 64-14 at Tuskegee and overall); Alabama State - Reggie Barlow (sixth season, 34-32 at Alabama State and overall). Sheridan Broadcasting Ranking: Tuskegee (5); Alabama State (4).
GAME NOTES: In the 89th Turkey Day Classic, Alabama State meets Division II Tuskegee in the first-ever game at ASU's new $62 million stadium. As if the buzz of playing a rival in a brand new stadium wasn't enough, both teams look to end their seasons on a strong note in front of a national television audience.
Alabama State tied for first the SWAC East Division, but the Hornets lost a costly game versus Jackson State on Oct. 13, so their plans of winning the SWAC title are over. Coach Reggie Barlow's team has been very balanced in 10 games, rushing for 179 yards and passing for 183 yards per game.
It all starts with running back Isaiah Crowell, who's rushed for 724 yards and scored 13 touchdowns this season. Quarterback Greg Jenkins has been more effective on the ground, running for 401 yards and eight touchdowns. He has passed for 1,544 yards, but also thrown just eight touchdowns versus nine interceptions.
Tuskegee has enjoyed a fine season and has a record of 9-1. The Golden Tigers' only loss came against Alabama A&M, 7-6, in the team's first game. On Nov. 10, Tuskegee defeated Fort Valley State 55-24 for the second time this season to win its 26th SIAC championship.
The Golden Tigers could present some problems for the Hornets defensively, because they rank first in Division II in scoring defense, allowing just 11.4 points per game, and eighth in total defense with 281 yards per game.
Both teams have had some time to prepare for the contest because they haven't played since Nov. 10, so expect the offenses to struggle early on. In the last four years, ASU has split two games in the series, but the home crowd in the team's new stadium should help.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Alabama State 26, Tuskegee 23.
Saturday, Nov. 24:
No. 24 Colgate (8-3) at Wagner (8-3)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, Nov. 24, noon ET
FACTS & STATS: Site: Hameline Field (3,300) -- Staten Island, N.Y. Surface: FieldTurf. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Colgate 4-0; Wagner 4-1. Away Record: Colgate 4-3; Wagner 4-2. Series Record: First meeting. Conference: Colgate - Patriot League; Wagner - Northeast. Nicknames: Colgate Raiders; Wagner Seahawks. Head Coaches: Colgate - Dick Biddle (17th season, 133-64 at Colgate and overall). Wagner - Walt Hameline (32nd season, 212-126-2 at Wagner and overall). Playoff Records: Colgate (4-8); Wagner (0-0). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Colgate 8 (1982-83, 97-99, 2003, 05, 08); Wagner 0. Sports Network Ranking: Colgate (24); Wagner (NR).
GAME NOTES: Two teams that surprisingly have a lot in common meet in a contest that will be played at Wagner, which is probably the biggest surprise among all host schools in the opening round of the FCS playoffs.
The Seahawks have had an amazing season, winning eight straight games - the longest current streak in the FCS - after starting with an 0-3 record. Amazingly, the team's average attendance is just 2,216, which ranks 116th in the FCS. Hosting a playoff game is a big deal, so everyone involved in the program has to be thankful just to make the field of 20.
Wagner's road to the playoffs is partly related to a huge victory over last year's Northeast Conference champion Albany on Nov. 3, but also a lot of credit has to go to 31-year coach Walt Hameline's defense. The unit ranks 18th in the FCS in total defense, giving up 314 yards per game and 16th in passing defense at 169 yards per game.
There's no question, Colgate presents a unique challenge with the dangerous duo of quarterback Gavin McCarney and running back Jordan McCord. They have accounted for 44 rushing touchdowns in 11 games and average 119 and 147 yards per game, respectively. Even more impressive? McCord averages 5.2 yards per carry and McCarney averages 7.5 yards per carry.
Wagner is led by running back Dominique Williams (1,162 yards, 11 touchdowns) and quarterback Nick Doscher (1,574 yards, 11 touchdowns, one interception), who have spearheaded an offense which doesn't turn the ball over much.
The teams have four common opponents, which is rare for schools in different conferences. Plus, each team defeated the previous conference champion in Lehigh (Patriot) and Albany (NEC), which essentially opened up the door for their chance in the playoffs.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Colgate 33, Wagner 26.
Coastal Carolina (7-4) at No. 22 Bethune-Cookman (9-2)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, Nov. 24, 2 p.m. ET
FACTS & STATS: Site: Larry Kelly Field at Municipal Stadium (10,000) -- Daytona Beach, Fla. Surface: FieldTurf. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Coastal Carolina 3-2; Bethune-Cookman 3-1. Away Record: Coastal Carolina 4-2; Bethune-Cookman 4-1. Neutral Record: Coastal Carolina 0-0; Bethune-Cookman 2-0. Series Record: First Meeting. Conference: Coastal Carolina - Big South; Bethune-Cookman - Mid-Eastern Athletic. Nicknames: Coastal Carolina Chanticleers; Bethune-Cookman Wildcats. Head Coaches: Coastal Carolina - Joe Moglia (7-4 at Coastal Carolina and overall); Bethune-Cookman - Brian Jenkins (27-7 at Bethune-Cookman and overall). Playoff Records: Coastal Carolina (0-2); Bethune Cookman (0-3). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Coastal Carolina 2 (2006, 10); Bethune-Cookman 3 (2002-03, 10). Sports Network Ranking: Coastal Carolina (NR); Bethune-Cookman (22).
GAME NOTES: Despite critics who say there should only be one team from the Big South Conference in the playoffs, if you look at Coastal Carolina's resume, the competition faced has been pretty solid. The Chanticleers' only losses this season came against Eastern Kentucky (8-3), FBS member Toledo (8-3) and two teams also in the playoffs, Appalachian State (8-3) and Stony Brook (9-2).
Bethune-Cookman is trying to become the first MEAC team since 1999 and after 16 straight playoff loses to win in the postseason. The Wildcats survived a tough early season schedule and it paid off. They finished conference play undefeated at 8-0 and were rewarded with being able to host their second playoff game in the last three years.
Coach Brian Jenkins' squad loves to establish the run first and averages 247 yards per game this season, good for No. 10 in the FCS. In fact, 23 of the team's 27 total rushing touchdowns this season have come by its four leading rushers. Isidore Jackson, Rodney Scott, Brodrick Waters and Quentin Williams have all rushed for over 400 yards and average 90, 54, 53 and 49 yards per game on the ground, respectively.
Coastal Carolina won the program's fifth Big South title this season, thanks to a perfect 3-0 record on the road in league play, which ultimately decided the conference's tiebreaker. It's the third playoff berth in only 10 years of having a football program. However, the 'Chants have yet to win a postseason game.
Signal-caller Aramis Hillary has put up nice numbers in 10 games. He's thrown for 2,133 yards and 17 touchdowns versus five interceptions. His favorite targets, receivers Matt Hazel, Niccolo Mastromatteo and DeMario Bennett, are extremely reliable and have accounted for 14 touchdowns this season.
Bethune-Cookman has a great opportunity to end the MEAC's playoff losing streak and to show that HBCU football can play with the big boys. On the other hand, CCU has a lot to prove as well because few gave the team respect for earning a spot in the playoffs. Expect a decent crowd at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Fla., especially because BC-U's marching band has another chance to play and excite both teams' fans.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bethune-Cookman 38, Coastal Carolina 30.
Grambling State (1-9) vs. Southern (3-7)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, Nov. 24, 2:30 p.m. ET
FACTS & STATS: Site: Mercedes-Benz Superdome (65,000) - New Orleans. Surface: Artificial. Television: NBC. Annual: 39th State Farm Bayou Classic. Bayou Classic Record: Grambling State (20-18). Home record: Grambling State 1-4; Southern 1-3. Road record: Grambling State 0-4; Southern 1-3. Neutral record: Grambling State 0-1; Southern 1-1. Nicknames: Grambling State Tigers; Southern Jaguars. Southwestern Athletic Conference Record: Grambling State 0-8; Southern 2-6. Series record: Grambling State (30-29). Last meeting: Nov. 26, 2011 (Grambling State, 36-12 at New Orleans, LA). Series Streak: Grambling State has won the last four meetings. Head Coaches: Grambling State - Doug Williams (eighth season, 61-21 at Grambling State, 64-39 Overall); Southern - Dawson Odums (Interim, 3-5 at Southern, 3-5 overall). Sheridan Broadcasting Network Rankings: Southern (NR); Grambling State (NR).
GAME NOTES: In a game featuring two classic HBCU rivals, the XXXIX Bayou Classic, played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, means a whole lot for the fans, players and alumnus of the respected schools.
Yes, it's a competition on the field, but it's also an event celebrating HBCU traditions, such as the battle of the marching bands and other family activities. Plus, some proceeds from the game support the schools' athletic programs and help fund scholarships.
Grambling State enters the game trying to end its season in some form of positive direction. The Tigers have a record of 1-9 and the team's only win came versus Division II Virgina-Lynchburg. They have struggled on both sides of the ball, allowing 407 yards per game - 222 rushing - and averaging only 296 yards per game. It's been a difficult year for Grambling, especially after the team won the SWAC title just one season ago.
Southern also is looking to end its season with a much-needed victory after losing its last two games by two total points. A 24-23 overtime defeat versus Alabama A&M, followed by a 31-30 defeat versus Alabama State, were very tough losses for a team which has only three wins this season.
In 10 games, the Jaguars have struggled to run the ball, averaging 76 yards per game, which ranks 177th in the FCS. The team's passing game, on the other hand, has been productive. Quarterback Dray Joseph is completing 58 percent of his passes for 2,227 yards and 20 touchdowns versus seven interceptions. Receivers Lee Doss and Mike Berry have 618 and 616 receiving yards,, respectively, and have accounted for 13 touchdowns this year.
Neither team has much to lose except to head into the offseason on a good note. Still, with the history of the contest and the hype surrounding both fan bases, anything can happen.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Southern 28, Grambling State 20.
Nov. 25 Eastern Illinois (7-4) at No. 19 South Dakota State (8-3)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, Nov. 24, 3 p.m. ET
FACTS & STATS: Site: Coughlin-Alumni Stadium (15,000) -- Brookings, S.D. Surface: Grass. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Eastern Illinois 5-0; South Dakota State 5-0. Away Record: Eastern Illinois 2-4; South Dakota State 3-3. Series Record: First meeting. Nicknames: Eastern Illinois Panthers; South Dakota State Jackrabbits. Conferences: Eastern Illinois - Ohio Valley; South Dakota State - Missouri Valley. Coaches: Eastern Illinois - Dino Babers (1st season, 7-4 at Eastern Illinois and overall); South Dakota State - John Stiegelmeier (16th season, 101-75 at South Dakota State and overall). FCS playoff records: Eastern Illinois 3-13; South Dakota State 0-1. Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Eastern Illinois 13 (1982-83, 86, 89, 95-96, 2000-02, 05-07, 09); South Dakota State 1 (2009). Sports Network Ranking: Eastern Illinois (25); South Dakota State (19).
GAME NOTES: Eastern Illinois and South Dakota State meet in a matchup between one team which sets the tone offensively through its passing game, the other through its grinding run attack, respectively.
Eastern Illinois enters the contest with nothing to lose. The Panthers pulled off a rare worst-to-first finish in the Ohio Valley Conference this season, while first-year coach Dino Babers has done a phenomenal job turning the team into an offensive power. EIU ranks sixth in the FCS in passing with 345 yards per game and sixth in total offense with 480 yards per game.
Receiver Erik Lora has set an FCS record for receptions in a season (124). He leads the FCS in receptions per game (11.3) and receiving yards per game (139). His quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, needs three touchdowns to tie the OVC single-season record of 34, held by former EIU standout and 2002 Walter Payton Award winner Tony Romo.
South Dakota State likes to dictate the game with running back Zach Zenner, who is the FCS' second-ranked rusher with 154 yards per game, and he has 10 touchdowns. Zenner gets all the attention because of his big play ability, but in the last five regular-season games he's only averaged 91 yards and scored two touchdowns. The key for SDSU will be quarterback Austin Sumner's decision-making ability. During that same five-game span, he's thrown for nine touchdowns versus one interception.
Few realize the strength of South Dakota State's defense, which ranks eighth in the FCS in allowing 297 yards per game and fourth in surrendering 15.9 points per game. Clearly, the secondary will be tested this week, but teams have only thrown for seven touchdowns in 11 games.
Both teams last made a trip to the playoffs in 2009. It's a lot worse of a memory for SDSU because the 'Jacks led Montana 48-21 late in the third quarter on the road before giving up 34 unanswered fourth-quarter points to lose, 61-48.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Dakota State 28, Eastern Illinois 24.
No. 14 Villanova (8-3) at No. 10 Stony Brook (9-2)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, Nov. 24, 3 p.m. ET
FACTS & STATS: Site: Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium (8,136) - Stony Brook, N.Y. Surface: FieldTurf. Television: ESPN3.com. Announcers: Mike Solano, Curt Hylton and Jeff Bernstein. Home record: Villanova 3-2; Stony Brook 6-0. Away record: Villanova 5-1; Stony Brook 3-2. Conference: Villanova - Colonial Athletic Association; Stony Brook - Big South. Nicknames: Villanova Wildcats; Stony Brook Seawolves. Series record: First meeting. Head coaches: Villanova - Andy Talley (27th season, 198-119-1 at Villanova, 226-137-2 overall); Stony Brook - Chuck Priore (seventh season, 46-33 at Stony Brook; 85-42 overall). FCS playoff records: Villanova 11-7; Stony Brook 1-1. Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Villanova 9 (1989, 91-92, 96-97, 2002, 08-10); Stony Brook 1 (2011). Sports Network Ranking: Villanova (14); Stony Brook (10).
GAME NOTES: In one of the more intriguing first-round matchups, Villanova, the CAA Football champion, heads to Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium in New York, to play Stony Brook.
For the fourth time in the last five years, Villanova heads back to the postseason. Just making the playoffs alone this year has been pretty remarkable, when you consider the Wildcats won just two games in 2011 and only one of those was in conference play. Of course, there are going to be some arguments as to why the CAA champion has to play on the road, let alone in the first round, but don't take away the accomplishments of Stony Brook, either.
The Seawolves finished in a three-way tie for first place in the Big South Conference and lost their regular-season finale at Liberty, which almost cost them a playoff spot. However, the team had nice wins over FBS member Army and FCS playoff teams Colgate and Coastal Carolina.
Running back Miguel Maysonet is a legitimate contender for the Walter Payton Award. In 11 games, he has rushed for 1,721 yards and 19 touchdowns and leads the FCS in rushing with 156 yards per game. He is complemented by fellow running back Marcus Coker (855 yards, nine touchdowns), which gives SBU a very capable one-two punch. Quarterback Kyle Essington leads the FCS in passing efficiency with a 175.83 rating and he's thrown for 22 touchdowns in 11 games.
Villanova redshirt freshman quarterback John Robertson, who became the starter following the first week of the season, was named CAA Offensive Rookie of the Year, after leading his team to an 8-2 record as a starter. He has thrown for 1,830 yards and 14 touchdowns with just five interceptions this season. Teams have had to account for him running the ball as well. Robertson has rushed for 936 yards and 13 touchdowns, second only behind first-team CAA running back Kevin Monangai (1,190 yards, 11 touchdowns).
Expect both teams to try to find success with their run game. The 'Cats allow 146 rushing yards per game, while the Seawolves give up 131 rushing yards per game. When push comes to shove, literally, something has to give.
Wide receivers Norman White (Villanova) and Kevin Norrell (Stony Brook) are pretty similar playmakers and are the favorite targets of their quarterbacks. Watch out for big plays through the play-action pass.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Stony Brook 40, Villanova 36.